We, as created beings, are given some amount of Free-will to choose our own course of action. Many religions, ideologies and philosophies define the nature of human actions and their accountability in terms of rewards and punishments. As a lay-person all we understand is that whatever we choose we are responsible and accountable for it. But by the immense Grace and Mercy of the Creator, we have not been left to think like a lay-person alone, rather God the Almighty wants us to understand our importance as human beings and our role as the believing servants. We have been given the guide to understand our life in this world and its implications in the Hereafter. As we read the Quran, we understand that no nation was left without sending a messenger to deliver the message of God. He sent Prophets and books to spread the message of Truth and to guide mankind toward a successful worldly life and Afterlife.
Quran is a book which covers a variety of topics to guide us in our day to day life as well as our life in a larger perspective. It tells us why we were created and what is the wisdom behind all that we see around us.
Quran also tells us about the concept of Free-will, and today, God Willing, I will share what it says in this regard.
In the Chapter 'the Women' (Surah An Nisa) Allah says:
What comes to you of good is from Allah , but what comes to you of evil, [O man], is from yourself. And We have sent you, [O Muhammad], to the people as a messenger, and sufficient is Allah as Witness.
The Messenger was sent to preach, guide, instruct, and show the Way,- not to drive people to good. That is not Allah's Plan, which trains the human will. The Messenger's duty is therefore to convey the Message of Allah, in all the ways of persuasion that are open to him. If men perversely disobey that Message, they are not disobeying him but they are disobeying Allah. In the same way those who obey the Message are obeying Allah. They are not obliging the Messenger; they are merely doing their duty.
God has not given us intelligence to keep it unused and static. We are encouraged to seek out the Truth. We are exposed to the reality of life and death through the messengers. We are informed about the pros and cons of doing good and doing evil respectively. We are not forced into anything. That is the reason why many of us leave ourselves in our own hands and just keep floating wherever our own thinking and understanding lead us. We do not bother to look deep into the things around us. We do not take time to use our intelligence to ponder over the visible and clear signs of the Creator all around us and within us.
Free-will does not mean something without a base. Free-will is something that enables you to choose from the options that are presented before you.
In surah al Anaám (the cattle) Allah says:
But if Allah had willed, they would not have associated. And We have not appointed you over them as a guardian, nor are you a manager over them.
Allah's Plan is to use the human will to cooperate in understanding Him and His relations to us. This is the answer to an objector who might say: "If He is All-powerful, why does sin or evil exist in the world? Can He not destroy it? " He can, but His Plan is different, and in any case it is not for a Prophet to force any one to accept the Truth which he is inspired to preach and proclaim.
There is indeed no compulsion in religion.
The Truth has been laid open, clear and evident. The seekers are the ones who attain what they desire.
This is Free-will.
What you want you seek. What you desire you get. No one can ever force anyone into any ideology or belief. This is famous about Islam as a religion that no one was ever forced into accepting Islam. Those who accept it know what they are doing and when they take shahadah or the declaration of Faith they are asked whether they are doing it by their own will and with understanding or they are being forced into it. This is the beauty of Islam. Never did our Messenger Muhammad peace be upon him force anyone into Islam and that highly baseless allegation that Islam was spread by sword has already been proven wrong by non believers and believers alike.
This can be supported by Allah's words:
"There is not compulsion in religion," stated in Quran in the chapter surah Al Baqarah (the cow).
And in Surah Yunus (Johan) Allah says:
And had your Lord willed, those on earth would have believed - all of them entirely. Then, [O Muhammad], would you compel the people in order that they become believers?
This is what is to be understood clearly. We have been given this Free-will to choose what we desire for ourselves. If we choose the path of Truth it is there before us. If we choose the path of falsehood it is also there. But, both the paths have different endings.
If it had been Allah's plan or Will not to grant the limited Free-will that He has granted to man, His omnipotence could have made all mankind alike; all would then have had Faith, but that Faith would have reflected no merit on them. In the actual world as it is, man has been endowed with various faculties and capacities, so that he should strive and explore, and bring himself into harmony with Allah's Will. Hence Faith becomes a moral achievement, and to resist Faith becomes a sin. As a complimentary proposition men of Faith must not be impatient or angry if they have to contend against Unfaith and most important of all, they must guard against the temptation of forcing Faith, i.e., imposing it on others by physical compulsion. Forced faith is no faith. They should strive.
And say, "The truth is from your Lord, so whoever wills - let him believe; and whoever wills - let him disbelieve." Indeed, We have prepared for the wrongdoers a fire whose walls will surround them. And if they call for relief, they will be relieved with water like murky oil, which scalds [their] faces. Wretched is the drink, and evil is the resting place.
Our choice in our limited Free-will involves a corresponding personal responsibility. We are offered the Truth: again and again is it pressed on our attention. If we reject it, we must take all the terrible consequences which are prefigured in the Fire of Hell. Its flames and roof will completely enclose us like a tent. Ordinarily there is water to quench the heat of thirst: here the only drink will be like molten brass, thick, heavy, burning, sizzling. Before it reaches the mouth of the unfortunates, drops of it will scald their faces as it is poured out.
In Surah Al Insan (the man) it is stated:
Indeed, this is a reminder, so he who wills may take to his Lord a way.
In Surah At Takwir :
For whoever wills among you to take a right course.
Allah is the Cherisher of the Worlds, Lord of Grace and Mercy, and His guidance is open to all who have the will to profit by it. But that will must be exercised in conformity with Allah's Will. Such conformity is Islam.
Human Free-will is to choose and be responsible for the choice. But the limitation to this Free-will is your dependence on God. One can never escape the Kingdom of God. A creation can never deny the right of its Creator on him.
In Surah al Infitar ( the Cleaving Asunder) Allah says:
O man! What has seduced thee from thy Lord Most Beneficent?-
Him Who created thee. Fashioned thee in due proportion, and gave thee a just bias;
In whatever Form He wills, does He put thee together.
Nay! But ye do reject Right and Judgment!
Having given a limited Free-will, He gave us a just bias through our reason and our spiritual faculties. If we err, it is our will that is at fault.
So, we are free to choose whatever course we desire but...every path that we choose has a destination. The straight path of Truth leads to the Pleasure of God and His Mercy in the form of Paradise. The path of falsehood leads to His displeasure and punishment of Hellfire.
The choice is ours. There is no compulsion...it is free-will! Remember freedom? Freedom of speech, expression etc etc...they too have limitations and consequences and so does human Free-will.